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What foods do pregnant hunter/gatherer women crave?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created November 09, 2011 at 5:24 PM

I'm wondering in the literature do various pregnant women in hunter gatherer cultures have cravings? And for what? red meat? fish? fruit? coconut? fat? protein? starchy tubers?

Are modern pregnant women culturally conditioned to crave junk foods (especially grains and sugar) because that's what the media and culture promotes?

Isolated hunter-gatherer pregnant women wouldn't have access to bagels, cookies, chips, muffins, pancakes, pastries, pretzels, etc so they could not crave those foods!

C471216c9fb4fcf886b7ac84a4046b49

(1371)

on November 10, 2011
at 06:43 PM

plus one for use of 'jonesin' and i love sardines & taomato sauce

Ca1150430b1904659742ce2cad621c7d

(12540)

on November 10, 2011
at 04:22 PM

Personally, 5 pregnancies and my only real 'cravings' were in my 1st and last -- my 1st, all I wanted was meatball subs from the local deli, which my OB forbade me (1000 cal/day, sodium free diet, while doing heavy manual labor). My last, all I wanted was liver and eggs. First baby didn't survive - I lost her at 8 months and then a set of twins at 6 (same diet recommendations) and that's what drove me to study midwifery. Subsequent pregnancies -- no baby under 8 lbs (both boys were over 10 w/ no gestational diabetes despite repeated screening), and all grown now to become amazing adults.

Ca1150430b1904659742ce2cad621c7d

(12540)

on November 10, 2011
at 04:18 PM

In some ways, this directly defies what I learned as a midwife. We taught pregnant women to gradually increase their protein and fat intake, up to 120g of protein per day (based on the work of Tom Brewer, MD and Michel Odent for prevention of gestational diabetes and PIH with or without pre-eclampsia). We recommended that fat make up 30-50% of the day's calories, with carbohydrates (from whole fruits, vegetables, roots, nuts, seeds, and limited grains - no sugar) making up only what was leftover after those needs were met. They were told to eat to appetite for 4 meals a day and avoid snacking.

Ed983a42344945b1ff70fd9597a23493

on November 10, 2011
at 02:55 AM

I wonder if that desire to binge on refined carbs comes from inadequate fats and protein....the need for both is increased during pregnancy...during my vegan pregnancy I was never satisfied and just ate and ate so much food, whole food, but low fat carbs. Forty pounds isn't really so much to gain in a pregnancy though, it's about average.

Medium avatar

(2169)

on November 10, 2011
at 01:57 AM

Milla Jovovich craved bone marrow during her pregnancy. seems pretty paleo to me :)

Medium avatar

(2169)

on November 10, 2011
at 01:56 AM

this discussion makes me think of an article I read in the newspaper recently- the HEALTH EDITOR wrote about how she gained like 40 pounds during her pregnancy because she went overboard and was eating cocoa puffs for breakfast and other horrible stuff and ended up with gestational diabetes. Its shocking that someone in a public position of power/knowledge 1. is willing to jeopardize her child's health due to her lack of willpower and 2. admits it to the populace who is supposed to trust her advice. I feel awful for the child she had.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19245)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:37 PM

Pregnant zombies...

26b7615ef542394102785a67a2786867

(7967)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:34 PM

Yeah, the super-smelling and strong aversions to smells and tastes are very common pregnancy symptoms, and IMO it's likely for evolutionarily-selected-for reasons. I think the same thing about the near-universal toddler 'pickiness' actually - no coincidence that the age that HG children begin to strike out on their own is the same age a vast majority of kids stop wanting to eat EVERYTHING.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:27 PM

Ice cream and pickles. ;)

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:03 PM

I had severe all-day sickness for over 4 months. It was more about smell than flavor; I couldn't even walk by grocery stores or restaurants. I could eat most foods as long as there weren't strong food smells, but then gravity frequently reversed. I worked hard to eat a complete diet but it was a challenge!

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13 Answers

6
Ed983a42344945b1ff70fd9597a23493

on November 09, 2011
at 06:08 PM

Of course we don't know what pregnant mamas in traditional societies may have craved, but Weston Price in his travels found that pregnant women were given the most highly nutritious foods available. http://www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/sacred-foods-for-exceptionally-healthy-babies-and-parents-too In my first pregnancy, I was vegan, and all I craved the entire time was fish, I wanted a big fatty piece of fish the entire time, and never gave in to my craving because I wanted my baby "to be pure"...cringe every time I think of that, if only I knew then what I know now...but I was eating WAPF style for a while prior to my second pregnancy, and I craved lots of liver and fatty cuts of red meat, and bacon...and I ate it all. My first has ADHD and I was in labor for thirty hours, my second is super mellow, was born in literally one hour, and is a very balanced little guy. I'm sure more was at play than food choices alone, but obviously, this had significant impact. I do think that women who crave lots of refined carbs must be very deficient in all kinds of vital minerals and fats, etc...I have so many family members that ended up with major health issues in their pregnancies because of a lack of good food, and they were the ones who would sit and eat bags of chips and pints of ice cream, off their diets for the first time since they were ten...

Ed983a42344945b1ff70fd9597a23493

on November 10, 2011
at 02:55 AM

I wonder if that desire to binge on refined carbs comes from inadequate fats and protein....the need for both is increased during pregnancy...during my vegan pregnancy I was never satisfied and just ate and ate so much food, whole food, but low fat carbs. Forty pounds isn't really so much to gain in a pregnancy though, it's about average.

Medium avatar

(2169)

on November 10, 2011
at 01:56 AM

this discussion makes me think of an article I read in the newspaper recently- the HEALTH EDITOR wrote about how she gained like 40 pounds during her pregnancy because she went overboard and was eating cocoa puffs for breakfast and other horrible stuff and ended up with gestational diabetes. Its shocking that someone in a public position of power/knowledge 1. is willing to jeopardize her child's health due to her lack of willpower and 2. admits it to the populace who is supposed to trust her advice. I feel awful for the child she had.

5
89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:22 PM

Although not really about the cravings from pregnant hunter-gatherers, but interesting:

From Loren Cordains website (here):

"During seasonal or inter-annual periods of food shortage and restricted total calorie intake, ethnographically and ethnohistorically documented human foragers, when possible, under-utilize foods that are high in protein, such as lean meat, in favour of foods with higher lipid or carbohydrate content. Nutritional studies suggest that one reason for this behaviour stems from the fact that pregnant women, particularly at times when their total calorie intake is marginal, may be constrained in the amount of energy they can safely derive from protein sources to levels below about 25% of total calories. Protein intakes above this threshold may affect pregnancy outcome through decreased mass at birth and increased perinatal morbidity and mortality. This paper briefly outlines the evidence for the existence of an upper safe limit to total protein intake in pregnancy, and then discusses several facets of the issue that remain poorly understood. The paper ends by raising two basic questions directed especially toward specialists in primate and human nutrition: is this protein threshold real and demographically significant in modern human foraging populations? If so, does an analogous threshold affect pregnant female chimpanzees? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, we can then begin to explore systematically the consequences such a threshold might have for the diet and behaviour of early hominids."

The physiological basis for this aversion stems from a reduced rate of urea synthesis during pregnancy that is evident in early gestation1 as well as increases in the stress hormone cortisol3. Hence, pregnant women should include more carbohydrate and fat (i.e. fattier meats) in their diets and limit dietary protein to no more than 20-25% of their total caloric intake.

My wife had lots of 'paleo-cravings': tomatoes, apples, pears, pomme-granates, meat, warm food in general

She also had several temporarily dislikes: chocolate (can you imagine ;-)), salads, olives, dairy, soups.

Ca1150430b1904659742ce2cad621c7d

(12540)

on November 10, 2011
at 04:22 PM

Personally, 5 pregnancies and my only real 'cravings' were in my 1st and last -- my 1st, all I wanted was meatball subs from the local deli, which my OB forbade me (1000 cal/day, sodium free diet, while doing heavy manual labor). My last, all I wanted was liver and eggs. First baby didn't survive - I lost her at 8 months and then a set of twins at 6 (same diet recommendations) and that's what drove me to study midwifery. Subsequent pregnancies -- no baby under 8 lbs (both boys were over 10 w/ no gestational diabetes despite repeated screening), and all grown now to become amazing adults.

Ca1150430b1904659742ce2cad621c7d

(12540)

on November 10, 2011
at 04:18 PM

In some ways, this directly defies what I learned as a midwife. We taught pregnant women to gradually increase their protein and fat intake, up to 120g of protein per day (based on the work of Tom Brewer, MD and Michel Odent for prevention of gestational diabetes and PIH with or without pre-eclampsia). We recommended that fat make up 30-50% of the day's calories, with carbohydrates (from whole fruits, vegetables, roots, nuts, seeds, and limited grains - no sugar) making up only what was leftover after those needs were met. They were told to eat to appetite for 4 meals a day and avoid snacking.

4
26b7615ef542394102785a67a2786867

on November 09, 2011
at 05:42 PM

I wouldn't be surprised if the tendency to prefer/crave bland foods and starch in the first trimester/while coping with 'morning sickness' (which for many women is near-constant nausea) is universal. Because a] carbs are less likely to cause illness, or harm a fetus, than green plants or animal products, b] a woman's glucose metabolism changes greatly in pregnancy, and her body has an increased need for glucose, to feed the fetus and put on extra body fat, and c] starch is easy to digest and has a soothing/buffering effect on the stomach. I know when I'm vomiting all I can handle is starch.

But, I don't know if this is so. I eagerly await answers from better-informed hackers!

From what I've read pregnant women in many 'primitive' traditional cultures have strict dietary restrictions placed on them, which are enforced by both tribe and family. That makes it harder to judge what they might want to eat. Often they are forbidden from certain nutritious foods, like meat.

On the other hand many of these cultures feed young women pre-marriage or pre-pregnancy diets that focus on nutritionally dense foods, which means that diet restrictions during pregnancy might not have a deleterious effect.

26b7615ef542394102785a67a2786867

(7967)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:34 PM

Yeah, the super-smelling and strong aversions to smells and tastes are very common pregnancy symptoms, and IMO it's likely for evolutionarily-selected-for reasons. I think the same thing about the near-universal toddler 'pickiness' actually - no coincidence that the age that HG children begin to strike out on their own is the same age a vast majority of kids stop wanting to eat EVERYTHING.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:03 PM

I had severe all-day sickness for over 4 months. It was more about smell than flavor; I couldn't even walk by grocery stores or restaurants. I could eat most foods as long as there weren't strong food smells, but then gravity frequently reversed. I worked hard to eat a complete diet but it was a challenge!

3
7bf306ada57db47547e9da39a415edf6

(11214)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:19 PM

Brains!

Especially fish brains- DHA being vitally important.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19245)

on November 09, 2011
at 06:37 PM

Pregnant zombies...

3
96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on November 09, 2011
at 05:27 PM

I'll be interested in what the experts say, but in my case I had no cravings and I've always believed it was because I did my best to eat complete nutrition every day. Friends of mine who complained of cravings were not eating so carefully.

That said, perhaps many women who eat well have cravings and we should hear from them. What did they crave, and when?

2
1ccc0b0b7a756cd42466cef8f450d0cb

(1801)

on November 10, 2011
at 02:57 PM

My wife just entered her second trimester and she's been jonesin' for sardines in tomato sauce - big time. She just put in an order for a case!

C471216c9fb4fcf886b7ac84a4046b49

(1371)

on November 10, 2011
at 06:43 PM

plus one for use of 'jonesin' and i love sardines & taomato sauce

2
306aa57660d911781231f8090c2a5619

(3808)

on November 09, 2011
at 07:03 PM

All my pregnancies took place pre-paleo, but my cravings were generally relatively healthy. Red meat, berries, things like that. I often hear of people who start the pregnancy as vegetarians craving meat. I honestly don't hear of many women having cravings for pure junk food, though. I may really enjoy ice cream or whatever during pregnancy, and may overeat it on occasion, but it isn't a craving.

Going into my third pregnancy, we were gluten-low but not gluten-free (one member of the household was gluten-free, so we didn't normally keep gluten-containing items around the house). I had horrible morning sickness (not hyperemesis gravidarum, but I lost 15lbs during the first trimester due to difficulty with eating enough). The only thing that made it tolerable was wheat-based products. Not carbs, not grains, but wheat (I experimented - neither corn, rice, or sugar had the same effect). I had to have bread, crackers, or something else wheat based with every meal if I wanted to keep anything else down. My craving? Taco Bell ground beef... which it turns out is largely wheat-based.

Once the first trimester was over, I went back to my (then) normal low level of gluten intake without issue. I also went back to having little interest in faux Mexican food :)

I'm pretty convinced that there is something in wheat with nausea-relieving and/or appetite-stimulating properties. Which is totally not an answer to the actual question asked, but it kind of fascinates me.

2
3a567c1637db69f1455ce35e78201a2c

(1054)

on November 09, 2011
at 05:36 PM

No one knows what women craved 20,000 years ago. You can speculate but we have no idea. We do know they survived!

Take a look at this recount of a paleo baby in Hawaii. It is amazing what can happen when pregnant momma is properly fueled and then what happens to a properly fueled infant...ie breastfeeding.

http://hawaiianlibertarian.blogspot.com/2011/05/paleo-baby.html

1
C27e2f81c28a8e9c2e1bb03fc2f3e661

on August 11, 2012
at 05:28 PM

I know this thread was started along time ago, but I thought I would throw in my two cents as a strict paleo-follower PRIOR to getting pregnant with my 1st child. Maybe somebody can benefit from my experiences too.

Background: I was the healthiest eater I knew of all my friends, family, co-workers etc. I folled the paleo lifestyle to a 'T' and ate 'clean' food for years and years. I was also an athlete and daily avid gym-goer. Now 2 months pregnant I can honeslty say it's no longer EASY to eat Paleo or even muster up enough energy for a workout. I have struggled with the guilt that avoiding the gym and eating non-paelo has caused me. Somedays I have very little energy to do anything after a long day of work but lay on the sofa and watch TV. I have severe food aversions - actually just no appetite at times.

I have always been very attuned to my body and a few things I have been noticing in the last few weeks:

  1. I am not hungry very often - when I am, I eat what I crave (and try to stick to healthier options) I eat until I'm satisfied, but not overly full. That might be 2 meals and a snack each day. Whatever it is, I don't worry. If this means a turkey sandwich on sprouted grain bread with melted cheese, so be it. But, I have NOT craved any sugary/junk foods. I credit this to rarely if ever consuming sugary foods PRIOR to my pregnancy. In fact, sugary foods are appauling to me more so now.

  2. I cannot prepare my own food. Major yuck. Opening the refridgerator door in the morning makes me nauseus. This is difficult as I used to prepare small healthy meals to work to survive off of throughout the day. Now, I have been living off of prepared foods at the local organic grocery store, the hot bar they have for lunch, and their homeade soups. I run and buy food when I'm hungry, and don't pack anything when I leave the home. Another thing, eating raw veggies is the most appauling food to me right now. I keep telling myself not to get too stressed about that. Salads will find their place back into my diet eventually.

  3. My desire for protein has gone down significantly. Prior to pregnancy I always ate a minimum of 130grams of protein per day from lean meat / seafood sources because I lifted weights heavy 5xweek and needed a solid amount for performance/recovery. What I can stomache now are eggs (sometimes), greek yogurt, cheese, and hot roasted chicken from the grocery store (but only when very hungry). Protein shakes are not appealing.

  4. I have naturally started Intermittent fasting....without trying. This is the most interesting part to my pregnancy. When I wake up in the morning, I typically have no desire for food so I don't eat. I get to work and don't usually feel any hunger until around 1pm or later. That's when I drive to the organic store and get something from their hot bar or soup list. This satisfies me completely for another couple hours.

  5. I have continued to take a whole-food multivitamin, trace minerals, a great calcium supplement, d3, and b vitamins among Tuna Oil and CLA and drink tons of pure spring water. I have heard that women who are too low in Vitamin b6 have worse morning sickness. So I have doubled my dosage of B-Vitamins but still feel tired and sick off and on throughout the day. There are some days I feel much worse than others, not sure if it's totally within my control or not based on what I eat and take for supplements.

In my opinion, being a healthier person BEFORE getting pregnant will be super benefical, obviously. However, to say that you won't get sick or have food aversions, or cravings if you're healthy to begin with probably isn't FACT. It has alot to do with hormones and how your body prepares itself. With that said, having certain cravings MIGHT indicate something you body is low in or needs. Just listen. A lady I knew craved chalk every time she saw it. Yuck, right? Well she eventually found out she was extremely low in calcium. It was her bodies way of telling her to get more! And, Food aversions may been your bodies way of steering you away from something that could be dangerous. Perhap my aversion to raw veggies is only a precaution, as I have had severe food poisoning from onions, salads several times in my life. If I got sick NOW, who knows if the baby would survive or not. Another thing that I cannot eat is Coconut Oil. Prior I could eat it by the spoonfulls out of the jar. A nutritionist I met did tell me that women in early-pregnancy have a more difficult time digesting saturated fats. Could this be another reason my body is pushing away from Coconut oil?? Just saying...our bodies have an interesting way of working.

Still trying to figure out how to get enough energy to get back in the gym.... hmmm, but then again, maybe my body is craving a break!?

1
A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on November 10, 2011
at 02:46 PM

I'm currently 18 weeks along in my pregnancy. I've been mostly paleo-primal since 2009.

During the first trimester I craved sour foods (sauerkraut, sour cream, pickles) and juice (because I was thirsty and juice was the only thing that would quench my thirst).

Now that I'm in my second trimester, I'm not craving anything specifically.

I follow the dietary guidelines found here.

0
Bd271299b2d4d9b2e3da9c252fef058c

on August 11, 2012
at 06:05 PM

i hiked mount kenya last summer, just me a native guide, and over the course of the week we shared a lot of stories-- one of his anecdotes was that the pregnant women in his tribe (the Luo of western Kenya) are often found in the middle of the night digging and eating the soil. i assume/have heard that geophagy is due to mineral deficiencies, so perhaps upping your intake of organ meats or even taking clay could be a substitution?

granted, the Luo aren't hunter-gatherers anymore, but i'd say they're a close second.

0
78fcdeee6ac4ee7d071bbac56b9e359f

(1035)

on November 11, 2011
at 03:29 AM

My first pregnancy I was pretty much eating SAD and I didn't have any specific cravings that I can remember.

In my second pregnancy, in which I was eating a minimal grains WAP diet, I craved horseradish like nobody's business. It started off as a craving for cocktail sauce, which I guess was the only way I'd had horseradish previously. I seriously could not get enough. And to this day (said baby is almost 8 months now) a good horseradish sauce gives me the nether region tingles. Also I gained 50 pounds that pregnancy, eating the good stuff: raw milk/cheese/butter, grass fed beef, pastured pork, pastured eggs, lots of local/biodynamic veggies. Baby was 9 lbs. 9 oz.

0
Ca1150430b1904659742ce2cad621c7d

(12540)

on November 10, 2011
at 04:39 PM

Personally, 5 pregnancies and my only real 'cravings' were in my 1st and last -- my 1st, all I wanted was meatball subs from the local deli, which my OB forbade me (1000 cal/day, sodium free diet, while doing heavy manual labor). My last, all I wanted was liver and eggs. First baby didn't survive - I lost her at 8 months gestation and then a set of twins at 6 months gestation (same diet recommendations as with my 1st baby -- silly me, I went back to the same OB) and that's what drove me to study midwifery. Subsequent pregnancies -- no baby under 8 lbs (both boys were over 10 w/ no gestational diabetes despite repeated screening), and all grown now to become amazing adults.

That being said, I did have hyperemesis gravidarum (hospital-level) with both boys (3rd pregnancy and 5th pregnancy), so I was a majorly picky eater, and lost a slew of weight during the first 5 months of both the pregnancies with my boys -- I stuck with the plan, though, and ended up gaining 30 lbs by the end of the pregnancy, with sons over 10 lbs and over 24" long! (My daughter was 8 lbs even, and 21" long).

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